A Hyperloop-related startup called Arrivo is building a $15 million test center and test track in the Denver Metro area, with the blessing of the Colorado Department of Transportation (DOT). The deal will be the second Hyperloop-related project for Colorado, after startup Hyperloop One and engineering firm Aecom announced in September that they would begin feasibility studies for a Rocky Mountain Hyperloop that would extend from Pueblo, Colorado, to Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Arrivo is headed by a name that may be familiar to Ars readers: Brogan BamBrogan. BamBrogan was an engineer at SpaceX and later the Chief Technology Officer at Hyperloop One. He quit, along with a small cadre of Hyperloop One executives, amid a flurry of lawsuits accusing the remaining executives on the Hyperloop One team of mismanagement and harassment. Hyperloop One sued back, accusing BamBrogan and his group of breaches of duty. The two sides quietly settled last November, and BamBrogan focused on building Arrivo while Hyperloop One moved forward with its Nevada test track.
According to the Denver Business Journal, BamBrogan says that the past is in the past with Hyperloop One, and Arrivo’s partnership with Colorado DOT was in no way trying to compete with Hyperloop One’s work in the state. Colorado’s DOT told Ars that it is still pursuing the feasibility study with Hyperloop One.
And the Arrivo concept and Hyperloop One seem to have some significant differences. Arrivo isn’t proposing a Hyperloop as Tesla CEO Elon Musk envisioned it—that is, with ski-mounted pods traveling at more than 700mph in a low-pressure tube. Instead, Arrivo will simply use a tube to cut wind shear, which should help increase pod speeds to 200mph. It won’t maintain a low-pressure environment, either, to reduce safety issues. The Arrivo system will have four pod models, some of which will act as ferries—cars can drive onto a pod platform, be sped through the system, and drive off when the line ends. Alternatively, a pod platform can deliver a person home.
There are some hyperloop similarities though. Platforms will be propelled electrically and will hover over the track using magnetic levitation.
Unlike Hyperloop One’s grand vision, Arrivo will focus on shorter-distance travel. Rather than try to cover 300 miles between cities, Arrivo aims to shuttle people between, say, downtown Denver and downtown Boulder (a distance of approximately 30 miles). The startup said its system can be overlaid on an existing highway lane, too. Though that seems a counterintuitive way to decrease metropolitan traffic, BamBrogan estimated that an Arrivo lane could push 20,000 vehicles down it in an hour compared to a “well-functioning freeway that gets 2,900 to 5,500 vehicles per lane per hour.”
Though Arrivo will be different from a Hyperloop, BamBrogan didn’t undersell his transportation concept in a Colorado DOT press release today. He says that using the system would be “extremely low cost” and “will end traffic and future-proof regional mobility.” The test track will be built adjacent to E-470, a toll highway that encircles the Denver Metro area. (Although Colorado DOT is contributing $200,000 to Arrivo’s work, choosing E-470 is probably more politically feasible than performing a test on any of the Front Range’s other highways, as E-470 is user-funded and doesn’t get support from the state for maintenance or operating costs.) Arrivo has said that it wants to build the first commercial leg of its system along the northeastern portion of the highway.
Still, a grain of salt is in order. For now, Arrivo is simply conducting a feasibility study for its first commercial leg. If all goes well, it hopes to have a commercial route in four to five years. While that’s pretty exciting, it’s important to remember that those numbers are estimations from an unproven startup. And while a commercial system exclusively on E-470 might work, things get trickier if multiple landowners and public departments get involved. Arrivo said it wants to run a line from downtown Denver to the airport, but Denver also just completed the A Line, a standard train route that runs from downtown to DIA. As important as it is for a major city to have public transportation from its airport, even that project has been met with controversy over train crossing safety and noise issues, so Arrivo will have to offer a unique and differentiated product if it wants to replicate that line with the blessing of the state.
Of course, every futuristic transportation announcement comes with estimated times between distances. Arrivo says that its system can shuttle a person or a pod between downtown Denver and the Airport in nine minutes (currently the train takes about 40 minutes and driving takes about an hour in rush-hour traffic), between downtown Denver and Boulder in eight minutes (at rush hour tonight, the drive would take about 53 minutes), between downtown Denver and Lone Tree, a city 18 miles south of Denver, in six minutes (tonight, driving clocked in at 43 minutes).
For now, Colorado is happy to have Arrivo’s money, no matter what the outcome. In a press release, Governor John Hickenlooper praised the company for its decision to add up to 200 jobs to the Denver Metro area by 2020. “Arrivo’s additional decision to locate [its] test facilities… is a testament to the culture of innovation that drives our economic engine,” the governor said.
Listing image by Arrivo